SoCal World War II veterans honored with France's highest military medal

Posted at 1:13 PM, Sep 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-20 16:13:07-04

Back in 1943, Richard Melton remembers graduating high school on Friday and getting shipped off to the army on Monday.

He was stationed in France during WWII fighting to liberate the country. On Tuesday, the French thanked him with their most prestigious medal, the legion of honor.

"It's quite an honor. Fact is, it's a real nice looking little medal. I can't believe it. When I start talking about WWII, it's like it happened yesterday. It was so different than civilian life," said Melton.

Staff Sergeant Laurence Stevens never set foot in France, but flew five miles above the country on D-Day serving as a tail-gunner on a B-17.

"It makes me feel terrific. The fact that they cared. Well, we all cared at that time," said Stevens.

Ten WWII veterans from Southern California received the medal during a ceremony at Los Angeles's National Cemetery Tuesday.

"It's very important for the French to acknowledge what they did and their sacrifice and to reward them today with a legion of honor," said Christophe Lemoine, the Consul General of France based in Los Angeles.

Richard Melton's daughter, Leigh Hancock, came all the way from Virginia for the ceremony. She said the experience gave meaning to her father's war stories.

"When you hear all of these stories, it seems very abstract. It's a long time ago. You can't quite picture it. But, in this context where you feel the gratitude of the French people and the history of the French alliance. It's very real and very meaningful and quite something to experience," said Hancock.

If you or a loved one served in France during WWII, you're eligible for the award and can reach out to the French consulate for more information. They can be reached at (310) 235-3200.